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Category Archives: Winter Warriors

The Dark Side of the Rust Belt Work Ethic

We’re on the ninth day of the Great Seattle Snowpocalypse of 2019. The Snowpocalypse started last Sunday night, dumped several inches of snow by Monday morning, and made the roads so dangerous that it took me 10 minutes to climb up a routine incline on my way to the transit center; a hill which doesn’t take 10 seconds to climb. Still, though, I managed to get my ass into work. I managed to get into work every day that week, in fact, in a week in which staying out due to transportation was perfectly acceptable. I stayed indoors the entire weekend. But now that it’s Monday, I tried to head back into work. Even with the snow still falling and my part of the region untouched by plows and closings happening everywhere, I got up at my usual time, exercised, ate breakfast, and tried to head off into the shiny white void to do my job. Then I spent 20 minutes brushing off my car. After that, I got into the buried vehicle, hit the gas, and couldn’t make it out of the snowbank. So I hit reverse, and still couldn’t escape. Then I hit drive again, hoping I had picked up some momentum, only for the same result. At that point, I finally admitted defeat.

Being a child of the Rust Belt, there’s a certain set of values that I come with. One of them is a work ethic. I take a lot of pride in being a hard worker who does his job right. I also take a lot of pride in my willingness to work in less-desirable conditions. But the fact the I was trying to go on today, after any reasonable person would have looked out the window and gone right back to sleep, leaves me a little bit of time to reflect on something. The Rust Belt work ethic that all of us take such pride in comes with a certain dark side. Namely, paranoia.

Rust Belters are the country’s most paranoid workers.

As with a lot of other things, we like to gussy this up as an effect of our trademark toughness. But this so-called toughness causes us to do a lot of stupid things. We’ve taught ourselves that a proper work ethic means going into work no matter what. We’ll try to force ourselves to work through dangerous inclement weather and sickness, even though doing so places ourselves and our co-workers in danger. We’ll brag about how we take all overtime, never use vacation time or other time off, and push ourselves through extra schedules. We refuse to even use up our proper breaks at work. And somehow, we’re proud of this.

This really isn’t our fault. The Rust Belt is so-named because its economy was once based in heavy industry. When those industries all became outdated and outsourced, the factories closed and left a rash of poverty which the region still hasn’t recovered from. My hometown of Buffalo is the third-poorest city in the United States, and the two cities above it – Cleveland and Detroit – are also both Rust Belt cities. (As is fourth-place Milwaukee.) And I happened to be born just a few years after Big Steel bolted, which means I went through my formative years and entered the workforce when everything had hit rock bottom. The prevailing ethos of the region is that you need to appreciate any job at all where you can get one. You go in, you work, no matter the personal cost, because there were five people in line willing to do your job if you weren’t. The result of this is a mindset which is unique in having both the willpower and ability to accept endless heaps of busywork and both the corporate and customer abuses that, all too often, come with it.

It was John Steinbeck who said the reason socialism never caught on in the United States is because the people all think they’re temporarily embarrassed millionaires. That’s the mindset that dominates on the Rust Belt. We’re warped from an early age to believe that the hardest workers will always make do, and that those who are just scraping by aren’t working hard enough. Workers, Rust Belters believe, are supposed to be uncomfortable and on edge because there’s a pile of gold at the end. Those who want things to improve are considered entitled brats who can’t be bothered getting dirty. The largest corporations will keep dropping in with promises of prosperity, but they inevitably bolt. I was saddened to hear that the New Era Cap factory in Buffalo closed and left people out of work. I’m also disgusted that New Era, in spite of that, had the gall to buy the naming rights to the football stadium.

When I moved to Seattle, I found employers who treat their workers with dignity and respect. But I’m also still trying to snap the worse aspects of the Rust Belt work ethic. I felt awkward asking for vacation time when I’ve done so, because I’ve never had employers who offered me that before. When I recently found a dentist who didn’t take weekend appointments, I didn’t know how to ask for the day off to get my teeth looked at. When my teeth turned out to be a bit more of a mess than I had anticipated, I started asking for time off to get them further looked at and fixed with the enthusiasm of a prisoner walking the Last Mile. I don’t know how medical leave even works. I’ve been more at ease in my life than ever, but my programming instilled the idea that I’m somehow supposed to suffer. I’ve finally found a piece of stability and even success in pursuing the life I want to live, so it’s an incredible irony that my old Rust Belt paranoia is still there to keep me from enjoying it.

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A Snowpocalypse Story

A Snowpocalypse Story

The Seattle Snowpocalypse hit right around the time the local weather outlets said it would. It was around noon on Friday, and the entire region had spent the previous two days preparing for a long-range sheltering. The place I worked had announced it was likely going to close early, and traffic on both Thursday and Friday was terrifying even by Seattle standards. The weather folks were reporting the region’s famed Seattle Cement slamming everywhere from Kitsap to Skagit counties for the entire weekend. A good 10-inch pile-up was expected.

Even after a good glopping hit the area on Sunday night going into Monday, I can’t say I was preparing to face anything especially severe. I looked outside on Sunday night and wrote the snow off as just another dusting that I would simply motor through on my work to work on Monday. Then Monday came, and in the waking hours, it was still snowing. Now, if I had been living in the Seattle area longer, I might have known better than to try and plow my way through the snow without the plow and just called in. But nope, I had to go out. I had to make my 15-minute commute to the transit center in 40 minutes across flying snow and ice which Snohomish County hadn’t even started to touch. I kicked myself while at work, doing nothing in the freezing cold, until a little past the afternoon hour when I finally begged off. I left partly because there was nothing to do, but mostly because I was getting concerned about making the final run home with the snow buildup.

The next few days were cold and icy, but unexceptional. Hell, I even enjoyed going into work more than usual because the weather was keeping everyone locked inside, which meant work had a pleasantly slow pace. There wasn’t any worry about getting the job done because so few people turned up. The bosses weren’t going to be pissed about the regular outdoor crew taking its sweet time stepping indoors. Employers everywhere understood employees’ reluctance to go out, so people just didn’t go out. If anything, I later thought to myself that I was probably on the crazy side for for going in, at least through Monday and Tuesday. Either that or my old Rust Belt work programming was getting the better of me. On Wednesday, things looked like they were returning to normal. But all week, the local news was saying the snow might not be finished yet. By Wednesday, in fact, it was saying it DEFINITELY wasn’t finished yet. The worst was yet to come. When the week started, getting myself around aside, I had no intention of treating the week any different than any other. I would go and do things as normal, just with ice on the roads. I had bought a Playstation 2 for myself just after Christmas which was meant to replace the one my Father was forced to jettison when he moved to California. That console hadn’t worked right, and when I returned it, the store put me on a waiting list for people who wanted PS2s and returned my money in store credit which was to pay for a new PS2 when one was sold to them. On Tuesday, I finally got that call from the store. My new PS2 awaited with my name literally written on it. They also told me they understood if I couldn’t get there because of the weather, and I said to just hang onto it until Sunday, when I would be free to pick it up. But it took just one day to change my mind, and with more inclement weather on the way, I made the trip to grab it on Wednesday.

Thursday, though, was the day when I sensed that there was going to be something different about whatever was coming. This was a familiar routine. The buildup in the weather report, then the actual hit. It had shades of Winter Storm Knife in Buffalo back in 2014. That enormous sucker had stopped the city dead with seven feet of snow, quarter-mile visibility, and 40-MPH winds on the way to becoming the city’s new standard-bearing winter storm. Even people of older generations admitted that it may have been the blizzard which displaced Buffalo’s old standard of bad winter storms, the legendary Blizzard of ‘77. Now, this is Seattle, so it would be wrong to compare this winter storm to the monster that was Winter Storm Knife, but between the region’s topography, layout, and lack of winter preparation, it was time to settle in for it all the same. Thursday night, I decided I had better get my extra grocery shopping finished and went to Fred Meyer. The self-checkout line was backed up for a half hour, and a reporter from KIRO News was interviewing people for the 11 PM broadcast. I also let my Game Night friends know that I wasn’t likely to show barring a sudden thaw. They responded that they weren’t going to show up either, and out store would in fact be closing early.

Since work was also supposed to close early on Friday, I didn’t make any drastic preparations or changes. The basic plan was to get in and get out. But the thing about a huge storm setting in is that people all wait until the last minute to get serviced, and so, unusually for Friday, it was the busiest day of the week. We were still working for a couple of hours after the snow hit, although since I made the main leg of my journey to work by bus, I made sure I was in the first wave of dismissals. The snow started around noon. I was out by about 2. At about 8:30 that morning, I had gone to a Trader Joe’s across the street to buy a small meal for myself. That usually isn’t an issue. Trader Joe’s opens at 8, and it’s still usually sparse at 8:30. Friday, though, the place was already crowded. The lines stretched back through several of the aisles, and some shelves were already clear. All I was after was a damned wrap, and I must have looked absurd to the crowd there with full baskets. In any case, work continued as normal until workers started trickling out of other departments a little after 12. At 2, I was let out, and since it had only been two hours and there was only an inch of snow on the ground, I thought I might makes fairly decent time on my way home.

That would have to be my old Northeast/Northern Midwest mentality talking again. I’ve been living in Seattle for three years, and my mindset hasn’t quite shifted all the way to the Pacific Northwest setting. If it had, I wouldn’t have bothered going in. But the hard part of the day beckoned, and now I had to set out on my Hell-on-Earth-frozen-over journey back home. A consistent falling of packing snow is treacherous in Seattle, and every driver in the city reacts accordingly. The I-5 traffic was moving extra slow, EVERYONE was trying to get home at the same time, and when I made it to the bus stop, I ran into a long line. Now, I’m hard-pressed for how much of a failure Soundtransit was in the moment. On the one hand, it successfully increased its bus frequency in spite of the ongoing traffic. I saw seven of their busses roll by in the hour I spent at the bus stop; an hour usually means three busses at peak travel times. On the other, only two of those busses let anyone at my stop on at all, and only a couple of people got off. The busses that let riders off didn’t let anyone on. Every bus was so packed that I started trying to think of alternatives, and other people in line had the same idea. The line got shorter, alright. But that was because random wannabe passengers were getting fed up and dropping out. I had to wait, though, because I didn’t have any alternatives.

Seattle-area public transit is a mess of several agencies, all of which are terrible. The main agency that serves my area in Snohomish County is Community Transit, which can’t keep up with anything even when traffic is light and moving at a fast pace. They were supposed to be serving their full compliment of bus routes during this winter storm, and as usual, they were failing. I saw two of their busses roll by in an hour, and both were 860s, which didn’t take me to the stop I needed. People in line were so desperate that they were just getting on any random bus in order to get to a location where they could connect with a bus which could get them where they needed to go. But the driver on that second 860 had obviously overheard a few complaints, and he did something which will forever make him a Saint in my mind: He leaned off his bus, asked who was going to the very stop I needed to reach, and said he could make that place an extra stop without any problems.

I’ve owned my current sneakers for over a year, and they were soaked entirely through. I was cold and wet and getting worried. I quickly spoke up, got on the bus, and let myself feel crammed as the bus made its way north. I’m not much for crowds, especially when they’re tossed like sardines into a moving vehicle. But all things considered, I got home, and I got home in a fairly timely way. After I got off the bus, in fact, traffic on 99 in Snohomish County had let up to enough of an extent that I could make my final grocery stop on the way home, like I had originally planned.

So now there’s not much to do other than wait. Wait for the snow to subside enough for me to get back out, wait for signs of life to how back up in the neighborhood. And, perhaps most importantly, to curse myself for having the Rust Belt mentality of NEEDING to show, no matter the possible cost. My father, year ago, talked about possibly buying a trailer for his car to haul to work during winter storms. That doesn’t sound like such a bad idea now.

Snowpocalypse Driving

Snowpocalypse Driving

When I first made my move to Seattle, I had the attitude that everyone from the Northeast or Northern Midwest did about weather: What the fuck can this place possibly show me? I’ve been buried in snow drifts of five feet, drowned in humidity, and scalded riding my bicycle barefaced in -12 degree wind chills. Dressing up for the cold was my entire life. 10-inch snow dustings were routine. I’ve found myself shoveling snow off my balcony in Buffalo, getting drenched in frozen rain in Chicago, wearing two pairs of pants at the same time, bicycling across ice patches, and watching a city run out of something called a snow removal budget. After all that, what was a little rain? After everything I had endured in my other two hometowns, this would be easy.

Yeah… No. The first great lesson I learned about the weather in Seattle is that Seasonal Affective Disorder is indeed a thing. I knew a lot about the bone-chilling cold that came on sunny winter days, but looking out across a sunny batch of fresh-fallen snow could really cheer you up. Seattle is rainy, and even when it’s not, it’s gray. And humans need a certain amount of sunlight – sunlight is a source of vitamin d, which helps stave off depression. So when I first arrived in Seattle and the dog days of a Seattle winter set in, I was essentially laying on the floor in fetal position, crying and sucking my thumb. It was the psychic effect of seeing nothing but a vast expanse of gray for a longer time than I had even known before. I barely made it through my first winter. (Fortunately, subsequent winters get a lot easier after the adjustment.)

That was nothing compared to the surprise Seattle had for me after I bought my car. Once again, that’s my Midwestern ego talking. When the snow falls and the roads freeze up, we all think about how THIS is our element. And we’re going to charge across the frozen landscape like a bat out of hell, weaving through the traffic on the sparkly asphalt and leaving everyone in the dust!

Yeah, that’s another thing that didn’t quite work out the way I thought it would.

All the great driving skills you attained elsewhere amount to dick when you’re stuck in a place where everyone else is a terrible driver. Out of everyday survival, I’ve had to adopt driving techniques which were unthinkable – and illegal – in other places. Switching lanes on turns and multi-lane switches have become part of my everyday road repotoire. Quick turns, U-turns, stoplight mergers, and dashes into turning lanes are essential. You don’t have to spend money on training if you’re an aspiring NASCAR racer. Just move to Seattle and you can learn everything you need about dangerous driving within a couple of weeks.

In any case, I was wholly unprepared for what Seattle introduced to me when it snowed. I can brag all I want about being from the big, bad, nut-freezing East. Seattle, as with most things, doesn’t give a shit. No, Seattle doesn’t get a lot of snow or wholesale freezes. All that means is that I’m now locked in a dangerous chase with a bunch of people who rarely have to deal with snow on the road, and a city which generally doesn’t handle it well. The worst part of it, however, is that I, myself, have now joined the legions of idiots driving on ice. That’s not to say I’m some sort of idiot as a driver. Rather, it’s because I’m aware of my flaws as a driver and have ended up becoming everything I ever said I hated back East. I’m as bad as the other bad winter drivers on the road, and now I can see why they all suck so much.

Seattle is not a place which knows how to grind it out in a winter. Staying indoors, grabbing a cold six pack, and watching a good football game in Seattle involves buying out every grocery store in the city. Being unaccustomed to true cold and snow, the Puget Sound region doesn’t bother to prepare for it. It expects everyone to hunker down and weather everything out for a week, which is how I found myself at grocery stores trying to get my grocery shopping done when I didn’t need to be there. What that means for the big, tough easterner is that Seattle doesn’t set aside a large pile of money dedicated to getting snow off the ground the second it lands there. So, suddenly, hey, guess what? You know all those idiots we all see in Weather Channel reports crashing into telephone poles at five MPH? I’m now one of them, and that’s because, for all my gasbaggery, I don’t know very much about how to drive on bad winter terrain either. Buffalo was always spoiled when it came to winter. The joke there is how we prefer to drive in winter because all the potholes are filled in, but when the plows and salt trucks coming around every hour, there’s rarely anything to worry about.

Take 10 inches of snow in Seattle. Yes, a lightweight by Buffalo standards, but this city is stuck in a spot where it can’t get rid of the snow. If it’s too cold, it can stick around for awhile. The ice underneath the snow can also stay for longer than we would like. And I’m not the all-knowing snow driver anymore; I’m just as clueless about ice driving as everyone else on the road. Now that I live in a place that doesn’t do snow removal, the slippery elements can settle down on the road for a few days and turn driving into a white-knuckle battle between life and death. Going out on the open road, I’m afraid to hit the gas too hard when the snow is starting to pile up on the road. I can never quite figure out when to start breaking, how fast I can go before hitting the brakes leaves me to slide a good distance, or when the car will stop. Trying to outrun a snowfall is terrible because, without any way of clearing the roads, we don’t know where the crosswalks and driving lanes are. So most drivers in Puget Sound drive slowly, and since hitting the brakes can kill momentum, we run through every red light. Who is going to flag us down and stop us?

The biggest obstacle in the area, however, is the numerous hills and valleys that create Seattle’s terrifying topography. During most of the year, the topography is another one of Seattle’s popular little quirks. Come a snowpocalypse, they’re a terrifying mess of steep slopes and slants. At the beginning of this snowpocalypse, I was climbing a routine hill on my way to the transit center so I could make my bus. I ended up getting stuck for 10 minutes before a guy with a shovel pushed me enough to get me all the way up. And that was a light incline. It wasn’t unusual for me to lose control of my car because the road wasn’t clear through the week. I’m lucky, though, because my corner of the Northwest is relatively flat. If you got to Downtown Seattle in this mess and tried to move east away from Elliott Bay, well, you were sliding back to the drink. I can’t imagine how anyone could have been able to stop trying to make the climb from Cherry Street or Seneca Street or anywhere closer to Pioneer Square or the International District.

That’s the truth about what being a weather wimp in Seattle entails. They don’t have to deal with freaking mountains back East. Yes, they get snow there, but they also get all the amenities to deal with it properly. They don’t have to fight with unfriendly terrain. They don’t have to fight with their cars when they hit the brakes and the cars slide all the way down the hill and into the cross-street, which happened to me a few days ago. You can call us weather wimps, but YOU bring your ass out here and deal with this shit.

(You can find my on Twitter now: Niko Croston @baronchairman)

Dispatches from Knife’s Edge

Dispatches from Knife’s Edge

Knife. So they decided to officially call this monster Knife. Winter Storm Knife, cutting across the heart of Erie County.

Maybe it’s meant to evoke some sort of ferocity, but I can’t help but think of it as a little bit kitsch. In Western New York, no one ever refers to winter storms by their proper names. We just refer to them by the features of them that everyone remembers. There is the Blizzard of ’77, for example. That’s all we need as an automatic reference to the legendary Blizzard of ’77, which everyone born after that year knows about. The Blizzard of ’77 is the standard by which every other bad winter storm is judged in Buffalo. I was born four years after that disaster, but I’m old enough to have seen some pretty hefty storms. I have recollections of the famous ’85 blizzard, when then-Mayor James Griffin voiced his battle cry for waiting out snowstorms: “Stay inside, grab a six-pack, and watch a good football game.” There was the Gridlock Monday storm of 2000, which dropped 35 inches and forced everyone driving home at the time to abandon their cars and walk home. There was the White Christmas storm of 2001, an anomaly in an otherwise mild winter which deposited 83 inches onto the city in four days – pretty much the entire snow measurement for an entire winter.

This current arctic blast currently dropped 75 inches in a little under two days, and it kills me that this is only the second-highest snowfall I’ve ever been in. (So far.) This is definitely beer and football weather; my school has been closed every day this week except Monday, which is the one day I don’t have classes. And so, with all my homework done, I’ve settled into backburner mode, except my version of beer and football so far has been tea and basketball. I managed to get out once to take a few photos during he calm before the current, second wave of the storm hit.

There’s a travel ban in place, so there won’t be any going anywhere until it’s time to visit the grocery store. When things clear up a little bit, I might try to go outside for a quick walk, but that’s out of the question for now.

You would never know right now that most of yesterday and today were sunny. This storm wasn’t simply some snow – it was a squall; a whiteout so complete that in my community, going out to shovel meant not being able to see the street.

There’s an odd process to having cabin fever. When you first realize you’re trapped at home, it’s easy to shrug, smile, call into work, and sit back with a nice beer to enjoy your day off. Snow days rarely go beyond that first day, and by the end, you’re refreshed and happy. You start getting sick of the walls by the second day, though, and not getting to go out starts getting boring. By the third day, you just want the snow to stop so you can get to the bar across the street. I tend to look for a little bit of variety – it’s a reason I like to be outside. Although I’m not at my breaking point right now, my routine during Winter Storm Knife has involved a lot of reruns of How I Met Your Mother and Futurama, college basketball and New York Knicks games, and movies. I usually have my workout done in the late morning or early afternoon, which knocks an hour to an hour and a half off my day between the workout itself and the fact that I’m usually so wiped out afterward that I end up napping at some point.

At some point, I started having some odd thoughts. What is this sudden obsession with putting Fritos on everything now? Is someone out to destroy bacon?

In any case, the city was well-prepared for the storm. It’s Buffalo, and snow happens, and getting hit with it in July wouldn’t surprise us. Before the storm came on Monday, I had an appointment with a podiatrist scheduled, which happened to be very good luck on my part because I was able to bicycle to his office. I was caught in the rain (yes, rain) on the way back, but it was nothing I hadn’t endured during my messenger years. The news outlets had been reporting on this storm for a few days by then, and it was due to hit on Monday night. We knew what we were in for; by late evening, everyone was already tuned into the broadcast stations to see the list of the next day’s closings. I think we were expecting a big whiteout but an otherwise minor emergency; two feet, two and a half tops.

You know things are bad when the newspaper delivery lets up, and this is our third day without a morning newspaper. The owner of the Buffalo Bills started offering $10 an hour plus tickets to the football game to drop by and dig out Ralph Wilson Stadium. Then he was shamed for it while drivers were advised to ignore the offer; people gave up when the snow didn’t stop; and now it was just reported that we’re not going to have a local football game to watch while we drink this week; the game is being moved to a different location altogether.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much to tell on the macro level because no one here has been able to see much of anything. I know only what I’ve seen on TV: The Weather Channel is trapped at an inn in Hamburg. One of the local TV stations was trapped for hours at a gas station. Both are giving us periodic updates, mainly as filler: “Hey everyone, it’s still snowing!” Now we know what they must have felt like in the south last winter. All that’s left to do now is wait for the snow to let up and look for ourselves to pop up on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report soon.

Sucking Wind

I didn’t think I had been off my bicycle for that long. It was April, and I hadn’t been on my bike since December, which for me is a long absence, but one I though I could recover from pretty easily. I had rode several miles of bicycle trails in Illinois/Missouri during my vacation, after all, and when I got my current bicycle, I hadn’t been riding in a couple of months at the time. But on my first ride after moving back, I was able to get to downtown Buffalo – about eight miles of slanted, sometimes hilly terrain – without too much trouble.

When I picked up my bike for my first ride in the Buffalo area for 2012, I had a much more difficult go of it. I had two strikes against me at the time: The first was that it was extremely windy, and the second was that my chain was in dire need of some grease – but, although I wasn’t setting out for the city that day, I barely made it a couple of miles before I began inhaling air by the liter. After struggling down the shorter stretch of Center Road – one of the flattest, straightest, and most easily bikeable stretches of asphalt outside the city itself – a nauseating feeling overcame me, and I suddenly struggled for a decent intake of air. Center Road has a very small strip mall at the closer end, just before it merges with Seneca Street, the street that goes into the city proper.

I was probably between a half mile and a mile from South Buffalo and I had to turn back. Ordinarily, that’s a ride I make very easily without breaking a hair on my head, let alone a lung.

Maybe the exercise I got during my recent month out of town – which was mainly distance walking, with a handful of bike rides in Saint Louis – wasn’t enough to compensate for my massive food intake during the time. I got addicted to biscuits, drank far more alcohol than my body is used to, and sampled several of the unique food staples in New Orleans – gumbo, Ambita, po’boys, and gris gris. I did that stereotyped New Orleans tourist thing in which, at one point, I was drunk and walking through the French Quarter at 3:30 AM back to where I was staying.

In spite of that, I would have figured my body would be better prepared for the bicycling season. It wasn’t like I was inactive during the winter months in which the weather and roads kept me off my bike. I ran virtually every day throughout January and February and covered a half mile up a 6.5 degree incline every morning before my shift began, while lifting weights and eating small doses of protein-rich foods immediately afterward. When my assignment ended and I kept putting off my normal pushup routine, my arms didn’t suffer quite so much when I began it again.

I’m hoping to do the Ride for Roswell if I can scrap up the necessary $150 in donations. I was originally planning to tackle the Century course, but that seems out of the question now, and not just because of its insane starting time.

Buffalo’s Occupiers Get it Right

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you already know about the Occupy movement. They’re out camping in the streets, angry and frustrated and trying to get some of Wall Street’s insane cash flow back into Main Street, where 99 percent of the people actually live.

Generally, I agree with the idea, but I’m a little suspicious of the Occupiers for a few reasons: First of all, I have a very rooted suspicion that a few too many of these guys can’t exactly qualify as 99 Percenters themselves, but as well-off trust fund hipsters looking for ways to rebel. Second, I KNOW a lot of these people aren’t there as part of a giant 99 Percent mass which wants to take back Main Street, but as representatives of more radical leftist factions pushing a very, VERY narrow agenda and who won’t budge on it. This is liable to cause a number of divisions within the Occupy movement and, in fact, it already has. Buffalo and New York City have both splintered on agenda differences. Thanks, Occupiers, that was fun. You can go back to your universities now.

Now, I have a lot of praise for the Buffalo Occupiers, or rather, the original group that started the movement outside of Buffalo City Hall. Whereas the other Occupy groups did everything in their power to call everyone on the outside racists, Occupy Buffalo knows what unity actually is. Instead of trying to divvy up their agendas, they’ve been concentrating on the big picture.

Its gone shamefully underreported, probably because this is Buffalo and not some glamor city with a ton of nightlife and artlife. But if the Occupy movement wants any chance in hell of changing anything, it would be wise to adopt the Occupy Buffalo’s tactics and avoid alienating all of their potential allies.

While the Police at other Occupy protests have been assaulting and arresting screaming protesters, one of the first things Occupy Buffalo did was recognize that the Police are among the 99 Percent too, and were probably afraid of how they might be affected by the budget. So the local Occupiers held a vigil in appreciation of the Buffalo Police Department, and the result is that the Buffalo Police are leaving Occupiers alone. The BPD and Occupiers are, in fact, on excellent terms with each other. There has been nary even a faint whisper of violence, and when an anonymous donor gave the Occupiers a large dome to help them stick it out through the winter, the Police let them set it up without incident.

The Occupiers have also agreed to let the city provide the necessary maintenance on their spot. This was an official agreement; the Occupiers were invited into City Hall to make it formal. Whenever maintenance is needed, the Occupiers move out for the few hours it takes the city services to clean up.

The Occupiers have even managed to reach out to the Tea Party. Instead of taking the regular path of most of the Occupy movements and saying everyone not with them is a horrible racist, Occupy Buffalo managed to recognize one of the goals of the original Tea Party: Try to end government waste. I’m not sure how the Tea Party has responded, but it was a smart thing for the Occupiers to recognize a major goal they have in common with ideological opponents.

Occupy Buffalo is a true throwback movement to the 60’s. Instead of the us-vs.-them mentality employed by virtually everyone in any kind of political arena today, Occupy Buffalo is taking the general idea of the people vs. the corporate and government interests that united the country in the protests of the 60’s. It’s too bad Occupy Buffalo split, but the Occupy movement everywhere has lessons to learn from Buffalo.

Summer Days

I moved to Chicago during the winter, in a February, to be exact. I believed without any doubt that all of my years hardening myself from Buffalo winters was good enough preparation for anything Chicago winters could throw at me.

Turned out I was right. But that didn’t stop all of the people I met in Chicago from making excuses: “This winter wasn’t one of the bad ones! Wait until one of the bad ones!” “You haven’t seen the bulk of them!” When it finally became obvious that I wasn’t going to waver, the excuses came again: “Well, you spent your life in BUFFALO!” This was just as annoying because people who compliment themselves on how good they are at toughing out winter weather should be able to take anything thrown at them. I was in Chicago for the giant blizzard that hit in February 2011, an 18-incher which kept the city hoarding and indoors for three days. The primary veins of the city were dead, and on the initial night, people on Lake Shore Drive were trapped. The one time I saw people getting trapped in traffic in Buffalo, the people literally got out of their cars, walked home, and returned the next day to dig out.

Buffalo has a weather advantage in summer; the giant lake which annually dumps over 80 inches of snow on Buffalo plays the role of a giant air conditioner in the summer. The city’s hottest average summer month is July, in which the average high is a balmy 80 degrees. The humidity can make things tough, but as far as ordinary temperatures go, Buffalo has never hit three digits. Years literally go by between 90-degree days. The pleasant temperatures make even high humidity somewhat bearable.

I always told Chicagoans that if they’re trying to scare Buffalonians off with bad weather stories, forget the winters. Tell us how hellish the summers can get. Chicago hits 100 degrees every year, or at least it feels like it, and the humidity would shame the best Satan could ever concoct on his best days.

There were times I was hoping the gale force winds from Lake Michigan’s direction would throttle me, acting like a cool life breath as I roasted, soaked, and melted through the worst of it. There were days when I didn’t even mind the rain very much, which is saying something given the fact that I look for shelter at the lightest sprinkle. I always sweated the hardest in humidity, and would spend more time at the water fountains, buying sports and energy drinks, and trying to get myself into the air-conditioned buildings, believing those caught in the Buffalo summer humidity had it made.